There is something so special about visiting the ocean! Although I live in California, we are about 3 hours from the ocean, so we don’t get to visit quite as often as I would like. Recently, we packed up the family and headed to Santa Cruz! I’ve visited the Santa Cruz area about half a dozen times in my life, and it’s always such a treat!
The Santa Cruz area has so much to offer… redwood forests, unique shopping, a wide array of dinning options, the historic (and fun!) Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and my personal favorite… lots of beautiful beaches! Santa Cruz sits along the California coast, about 2 hours south of San Francisco, the climate is cool and mild and even in the winter it’s likely you can enjoy sitting on the beach, albeit in jeans and a sweatshirt… not necessarily a bikini (which is fine with me, since I don’t own one!).
Of course whenever I travel I always seek out the “sweet” shops in town! As I was planning our visit, I contacted the Santa Cruz Visitors Council, and with their help, created a list of sweet places to visit in Santa Cruz.
Pull up a seat and join my family and I for a little (virtual) trip around Santa Cruz…
We chose the Capitola Venetian Hotel as our home away from home. Capitola is one of the beautiful little beach towns in the Santa Cruz area. The Capitola Venetian was a perfect fit for our family! The location was SO amazing… we could see and hear the beach (oh how I love that sound!) and the sand was just steps away! It was such a luxury to be able to take the girls to the beach, and then easily come back to our room to rest, or shower, or head out to our next activity.
Our room was clean, tastefully decorated and the perfect amount of space for our family. The room we stayed in was basically a small 2 bedroom apartment. My husband and I had a bedroom with a queen bed, there was a tiny (but cute!) little bedroom with a twin bed that my oldest daughter loved staying in, and then there was a second queen sized bed in the living room area. Off the living area was a small, but complete kitchen with a full sized fridge, dishes in the cupboards, and a everything we needed for our stay.
My favorite feature of the hotel room was the view…
This was the view from the living room window (and balcony). There was one row of rental houses between us and the beach, but since the hotel is set on a hill, we had a great view over the neighboring building. It was just the perfect mix of privacy and proximity to the beach!
After we got settled in at the hotel, we head out for a treat… ice cream!
We headed to The Penny Ice Creamery to enjoy some delicious, made from scratch ice cream! It was hard to chose from their tempting selection of unique flavors! The menu changes seasonally to highlight local, fresh ingredients. Flavors range from an utterly perfect Tahitian Vanilla Bean, to more exotic flavors like Cardamom Pistachio and 5 Spice Mascarpone Prune. After a few samples (all delicious!) I chose dark chocolate and then made the really smart decision to have it topped with their homemade marshmallow cream! The marshmallow cream is torched just a bit, for the perfect toasted flavor! Matched with a freshly made waffle cone, this was truly one of the best ice cream cones I’ve ever had!
Later that evening we headed out to dinner at the Shadowbrook Restaurant. The Shadowbrook is a gorgeous and unique restaurant located on the banks of Soquel Creek. The only way to reach the restaurant is via their own quaint little cable car (pictured below), or by way of a meandering set of stairs nestled among an incredibly lush and beautiful landscape.
We had a reservation, and I assume that would be necessary most evenings, as even with a reservation there was a bit of a wait. The restaurant is quite large, and there are several different dinning areas, each with their own character. It’s really a one-of-a-kind location!
I’ve been trying to think of how I could possibly describe to you the meal we had… but I’ll just jump right to the end and tell you it was easily one of the top 5 meals I’ve ever had IN MY LIFE! My husband fully agreed (I think he said top 3).
My husband, daughters and I each ordered something different so we could share a bit, and really get a full sense of all they had to offer. We enjoyed an appetizer of Salmon Cakes, then moved to entrées of Filet Mignon, Blackened Lamb and Roasted Chicken. It was very clear that each dish we were served had been made with the utmost care! Despite being truly satisfied by our main meal… we just had to try some dessert! We shared crème brule, chocolate lava cake and a trio of homemade ice cream… oh we were so full and happy!
Sadly, I do not have any photos of the our meal to share, as the restaurant was quite dark and I knew there was no way I could do justice to the gorgeous dishes we were served! I came back to the restaurant the day following our meal to take photos of the inside and outside of the Shadowbrook (pictured above and below).
If you are ever in the Santa Cruz or Capitola area, I cannot recommend the Shadowbrook Restaurant enough! I still find myself dreaming of our amazing meal!
Miraculously, the next morning I was ready to eat again and I headed out to Gayle’s Bakery.
I had an appointment (oh so early) to meet with the manager before the bakery was open for the day. I’ll have to say, it’s pretty rare for me to see 5:45 in the morning…. but this appointment was totally worth it!
I’ve had the pleasure of eating at Gayle’s Bakery a few times in the past, so I already knew it was a really special place. But after touring the bakery and learning more about this business, I love it even more!
Gayle’s is really a dream to visit for any baker, and sweets-lover like me! Every item in the bakery (and deli) is made fully from scratch, using high quality ingredients. Gayle’s Bakery makes an amazing (and delicious!) array of breads, pastries, cakes, pies, cookies and tarts.
In addition to the huge selection of (gorgeous!) baked goods, Gayle’s also has a full deli that serves everything from beautiful salads, to gourmet sandwiches and roasted meats. You could easily eat at Gayle’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner… and what an amazing day that would be!
I might suggest stopping by Gayle’s in the morning and starting your day with coffee and a few of their amazing pastries, then you could chose some salads or sandwiches to go and enjoy a perfect picnic on the beach later in the day.
If you are not able to stop by Gayle’s Bakery in person, you can enjoy many of their famous recipes by making them at home thanks to their cookbook, The Village Baker’s Wife. I have this cookbook in my personal collection and have read it cover to cover. It’s filled with amazingly detailed recipes, and each recipe also has a story as to how it came to be a favorite in the bakery, or the history of that recipe at Gayle’s.
Later that day, I headed down to Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz. Pacific Avenue is a great little “main street” filled with all kinds of shopping and dining options.
My first stop was Nut Kreations. Nut Kreations is a snack lovers dream! They have a huge variety of nuts and snacks… from raw nuts, to candied nuts, dried fruit, flavored corn nuts, and chocolate dipped treats of all kinds! They will happily give you a sample of anything you desire, and everything can be bought by the pound (or 1/4 or 1/2 pound) so you can mix and match your favorites.
Nut Kreations is a great little shop to visit in person, but you can also visit their website and order their treats for yourself or as gifts, any time of year!
My next stop was just up the street, at Chefworks. This is a shop I’ve had the pleasure of visiting a few times before and always make a point to visit when I’m in the area. Chefworks is a beautiful store filled with every tool, gadget and supply you’d ever need for a well-stocked kitchen! From gorgeous pottery and dishes from around the world, to high quality table linens, to a beautiful selection of bakeware, cookie cutters, sprinkles, cookbooks… the list goes on! I always find a few things that “need” to come home with me!
My family knows when I stop in Chefworks…. they may as well continue on down the block without me, because I’m going to be in the store a while! =)
While still exploring Pacific Avenue, I stopped in Pacific Cookie Company. If you love a good, classic cookie, this is the shop for you! From Snickerdoodle, to Mint Chocolate, this “sweet” shop has a nice selection of cookies (including some delicious gluten-free varieties!). Be sure to grab a little carton of milk while you’re there!
I chose a Ginger Spice, Snickerdoodle and Mint Chocolate (“Mint Condition”) and shared them with my family. They were fresh and delicious!
After exploring Pacific Avenue, my family and I headed to the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk! We have taken the girls to the boardwalk just once before, and they were very excited to visit again! The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is right along the sand of the Pacific ocean, and is a year round amusement park. There is no cost to walk along the boardwalk, and you can buy individual ride tickets, or all day wristbands. Although the boardwalk is open year, check the website for hours and attractions.
A visit to the boardwalk would not be complete without a stop at Marini’s Candies. Marini’s candy shop has been a part of the beach boardwalk since 1915! This family run business is famous for their delicious salt water taffy, caramel popcorn and homemade fudge! All of their treats are made in their open-air shop, facing the Pacific ocean. Throughout the day, visitors to the boardwalk can stop by and watch the salt-water taffy being made. It’s memorizing to watch the taffy being pulled! Here’s a little peek of the gorgeous taffy via my Instagram page.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our little tour of Santa Cruz! My family and I had such a great visit and we look forward to visiting again soon!
If you plan to visit the Santa Cruz area, be sure to visit SantaCruzCA.org. You’ll find everything you need to know to plan an amazing trip!
Here’s a quick review of the stops we made on this trip…
Capitola Venetian Hotel - 1500 Wharf Road, Capitola, CA.
The Penny Ice Creamery – 820 41st. Av., Santa Cruz, CA (see website for additional locations).
Shadowbrook Restaurant – 1750 Wharf Road, Capitola, CA
Gayle’s Bakery & Roticceria – 504 Bay Avenue, Capitola, CA
Nut Kreations – 104 Lincoln Street, Santa Cruz, CA
Chefworks – 1527 Pacific Av., Santa Cruz, CA
Pacific Cookie Company – 1203 Pacific Av., Santa Cruz, CA
Marini’s at the Beach – Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, 400 Beach Street, Santa Cruz, CA
Do you love Santa Cruz too? Are there any stops we should be sure to add to our next visit?
Do you have a favorite bakery, ice cream shop, or kitchen store in your area? I’d love to hear about it, and I’ll add it to my travel “wish list” =)
I love cute cookies…. I also love cookies that don’t take 10 hours to decorate! These Cute & Simple Valentine’s Cookie Sticks are a perfect little treat to share with the people you love!
I love decorating cookies, but don’t always have the time for complex designs. For most of my cookies, I love using fun colors and simple designs to create something that is cute, delicious and simply makes a “sweet” little gift for family and friends.
I’ve seen a few cookie friends making fun things with simple, thin rectangle shapes and wanted to play along. My sweet friend Meaghan of The Decorated Cookie has made several fun ones, and the talented artists behind Melissa Joy Cookies, The Cookie Corner, and Munchkin Munchies have each done some beautiful designs on skinny rectangles.
I have a large rectangle cookie cutter that I’ve used in the past to cut smaller shapes from, but I realized it would be so nice to be able to cut several long rectangles at once. I contacted my friends over at Truly Mad Plastics and told them what I had in mind… a few days later I had these awesome cutters delivered!
For these Simple Valentine’s Cookie Sticks I used the cutter that makes 1″x4″ cookies. Feel free to adjust the dimensions to your liking, and you can certainly cut them out individually using a knife (and ruler) on well chilled dough.
Let’s get started!
For these cookies you’ll need…
A batch of cookie dough using my Rolled Sugar Cookie Recipe.
A batch of Royal Icing.
I prepared thick/outline consistency icing in white, red, pink and blue, and fitted them with 1.5PME tips. I also prepared a medium/flood consistency icing in the same colors, and fitted those bags with a #2 tip.
Note- The thick/outline icing should be about the thickness of toothpaste. Thick enough that it stays in place when piped onto a cookie, but not so thick that it hurts your hand to squeeze out the bag.
Medium/flood consistency icing should be about the thickness of shampoo, or corn syrup. Just thin enough that when you are stirring the icing in a bowl and you pick up the spoon and allow icing from the spoon to fall into the bowl, the line of icing should disappear into the rest of the icing in about 12-15 seconds.
Step 1- Outline one or two cookies at a time, using thick/outline icing and a #1.5 or #2 tip.
Step 2- Immediately fill in the cookie using medium/flood consistency icing and a #2 tip.
Step 3- As soon as you’ve flooded the cookie, and the icing (on the cookie) has leveled out, drop dots of medium/flood consistency icing in your choice of colors.
Step 4- (see photo above and below) Use a toothpick to drag a line from the top of each dot, down through the dot. After running through one dot (and just before you touch the next dot), pick up the toothpick and wipe the end onto a paper towel or cloth. Immediately continue with each additional dot. If you run a toothpick down through all of the dots at once, the colors will run from one dot to the next. This works fine if all of your dots are the same color, as I did with these Simple Heart Cookies, but I would not recommend it for multi color dots.
Step 5 – You’re done! Set aside and move to the next cookie. Allow icing to dry 8 hours before packaging cookies.
For the other designs pictured above, I just played around with a combination of hearts and lines. For the striped cookies, I outlined and flooded the cookies, then used the thicker/outline consistency icing for the stripes.
Play around with any combination of dots, hearts and stripes. If you want to outline the cookie in one color (such as blue, pink or red) and then flood in another color (such as white), allow the outline to dry just a bit (15 minutes or more) before filling in with white.
Looking for more sweet Valentine’s Day ideas? Find more cute cookies, delicious cupcakes, and pretty cakes by browsing my past Valentine’s Day posts.
Rich, decadent and simply amazing… this Salted Caramel Chocolate Truffle Tart is a delicious and impressive dessert!
This beauty starts with a crisp shortbread crust, then a layer of salted caramel, rich chocolate ganache and is toped with Lindt LINDOR truffles.
One bite and you will understand the #LINDORmelt… that moment when you taste the smooth, creamy LINDOR chocolate, and for a moment the world seems to melt away.
As you can imagine, my family sees me making dessert quite often. While I was making this pretty treat I noticed them buzzing around a bit more than usual. Everyone was extra anxious for a slice. My “sampling committee” gave this Chocolate Truffle Tart their full approval! =)
Salted Caramel & Chocolate Truffle Tart
A crisp and buttery shortbread crust is topped with salted caramel, chocolate ganache and Lindt LINDOR truffles. An impressive and delicious dessert!
Yield: 1 tart (about 10-12 servings)
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp. heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups flour
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4" pieces and chilled
25 wrapped caramels (such as Kraft or Brachs)
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon good quality sea salt
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
15 Lindt LINDOR truffles, cut in half
unsweetened cocoa powder (for dusting)
Make the crust
Whisk egg yolk, cream and vanilla together in a small bowl and set aside.
In a food processor, blend flour, sugar and salt about 5 seconds.
Add butter cubes to the food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal, about 15 seconds.
With the machine running, add egg mixture and continue to process until dough begins to form, about 12 seconds.
Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill about 15 minutes.
Roll dough between two pieces of plastic wrap, to about 1/4" thick. Roll dough in the general shape of your pan. I used a long rectangle (14"x4"), but you could use a round tart pan instead.
Remove top layer of plastic wrap, then flip the dough over, into the pan, allowing it to hang over the sides. Ease dough into the pan by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand, while pressing the dough into the corners with the other hand. Leave any dough that is hanging over the edges in place for the moment. Gently press dough into the groves along the sides of the pan (adding bits of dough as needed), then roll a rolling pin over the top of the pan to trim off any excess dough.
Cover tart pan with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 30 minutes. (Dough lined tart pan can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 1 month)
After 30 minutes (or more), remove tart from freezer, remove plastic wrap, and carefully press a sheet of foil into the frozen tart shell, covering the edges. Top foil with pie weights, dry beans or dry rice to weigh down the foil.
Place prepared tart on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated 375*F oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, carefully remove the pie weights and the foil and bake (uncovered) for an additional 5-10 minutes, until golden brown.
Set aside to cool.
Make the caramel
Unwrap caramels and place in a bowl with heavy cream. Heat in the microwave for 3-5 minutes at 50% power, checking and stirring every minute or so. Once the caramels are melted, stir well and add salt. Stir, then set aside to cool a few minutes.
Pour caramel into the (mostly) cooled crust. Move entire tart to the fridge and chill about 10 minutes.
Prepare truffles by cutting them in half. They do not have to be perfect pieces, but if you break a few, you can simply add them to the ganache (when you add the chopped chocolate to the cream, as directed below).
Make the ganache
Chop the chocolate into small pieces.
Heat the cream in a bowl in the microwave until very hot (but no need to boil). Add chopped chocolate and then let it sit about a minute (if you have a few broken truffle pieces, you may add them as well). After a minute, stir until the chocolate is fully melted and well combined.
Place bowl in the fridge and allow to thicken a bit. You want it to be just soft enough to pour, but thick enough that when you top it with the truffles they will stay in place (and not sink into the ganache). Check the fridge and stir ganache every 10 minutes or so until desired thickness is met. Pour chocolate on top of caramel layer, and spread as needed with an offset spatula.
Top ganache with cut truffles, then dust tart with cocoa powder.
Chill about 15 minutes, then serve at room temperature.
To spread out the work a bit, feel free to make the tart crust a day in advance (and keep covered, at room temperature).
Once prepared, the entire tart can be kept at room temperature (or in the fridge in warm weather) for a full day. I'm sure it would be perfectly fine even longer, but I always recommending enjoying baked goods when they are as fresh as possible.
Wouldn’t this be an amazing treat to share with your Valentine?
It has all the elements of a perfect Valentine’s Day dessert… it’s rich, beautiful and covered in chocolate!
I chose a rectangle shaped tart pan for this dessert, but feel free to use a round tart pan if that’s what you have.
Aren’t those Lindt LINDOR truffles just beautiful all lined up? The truffles just add an extra layer of decadence to this tart.
For a totally different, but equally beautiful look, you could roughly chop the truffles into quarters, and lay them jagged sides up for a more organic design.
This post is sponsored by Lindt Chocolates. All text, images and opinions are my own. I only work with brands I use and love.
Sweet, tart, creamy and delicious…. this Lemon Raspberry Trifle has it all!
You might already know that I love trifles and layered desserts… after all I did write a whole book on them!
When a neighbor recently gifted me with a big bag of meyer lemons I knew they would be a perfect element in a pretty trifle.
I started by making lemon curd, then added that delicious element to some of my favorite Real California Milk products… heavy cream and cream cheese!
I layered the delicious lemon cream with raspberries… but strawberries, blueberries, or some combination of those would be equally delicious!
I wanted the finished dessert to have a big of texture to it, so before adding a layer of sponge cake I cut the cake into small squares and toasted them in the oven.
Everyone in my house LOVED the final results! This Lemon Raspberry Trifle has a great combination of flavors and textures!
Lemon Raspberry Trifle
Sweet, tart, creamy and delicious... this amazing trifle has it all!
Sponge Cake, Angel Food Cake or Pound Cake (1 loaf size cake, or 1/2 of a large round cake)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/3 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
3 Tbsp. butter
4 oz. (1/2 block) cream cheese
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 Tbsp. lemon curd (from recipe above)
2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
Prepare Lemon Curd by combining all ingredients in a double boiler (or a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water). Heat, while stirring (with a whisk), until mixture thickens. The lemon curd is done when it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat, cover and refrigerate until cool. If desired, pour lemon curd through a fine strainer before refrigerating. Lemon curd may be store in the fridge up to 2 weeks.
Prepare cake. You may use a Sponge Cake (I used the recipe in my book, Glorious Layered Desserts), Angel Food Cake, or Pound Cake.
Once baked and cooled (or feel free to use store bought) cut cake into small bites (about 1" squares) and spread onto a baking sheet. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350* for 8-12 minutes. Check after 5 minutes, you may want to flip them over or move them around a bit so they bake evenly. You want the cake to be dry on the outside, but have some softness in the center. Baking the cake bites is totally optional, but I love the bit of extra texture it adds to the final dessert.
While the cake bakes, prepare raspberries by placing in a bowl and sprinkling 1-2 tablespoons of sugar evenly on the fruit. Stir and put in the fridge for 15-20 minutes, until there is some juice in the bottom of the bowl. Stir raspberries as needed to make sure the sugar gets dissolved and mixed in well. Frozen raspberries will be much juicer, so you'll have to adjust accordingly (fresh may need to sit in the fridge a bit longer). If using fresh berries, you may reserve a few for garnish if desired.
Prepare lemon cream
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add heavy cream slowly, while mixing. When the cream begins to thicken, slowly add powdered sugar, vanilla and then (fully cooled) lemon curd. Continue to beat until all ingredients are well incorporated and mixture is light and fluffy.
Scoop lemon cream into a large ziplock bag, close bag and snip off about 1/2 inch from one of the corners of the bag.
Begin assembly by adding a few pieces of cake to each dish, then adding a layer of lemon cream, some raspberries (with some of the juices), then repeat - cake, cream, raspberries.
Serve immediately or refrigerate up to 30 minutes before serving.
If preparing ahead, prepare each component, but assemble shortly before serving.
Recipe source- Glorious Treats
When choosing dairy products, make sure to look for the Real California Milk seal. It’s the only way to ensure those products are make with 100% Real California Milk. I recently enjoyed a visit to a California dairy farm and enjoyed meeting some happy California cows during my Real California Milk Farm Tour.
Looking for more delicious recipes to use fresh winter lemons? Here are few of my favorites!
Lemon Coconut Bars
Yogurt Panna Cotta with Lemon Curd
Lemon Thumbprint Cookies
This post is sponsored by the California Milk Advisory Board. All text, images and opinions are my own. I only work with brands I use and love.
When a “business trip” includes lots of sampling of Thrifty Ice Cream you know your career is heading in the right direction! =)
Thanks to the California Milk Advisory Board I recently enjoyed a short trip to southern California to enjoy lots of delicious milk, cheese and ice cream… and meet some of the happy California cows that make these delicious products possible!
I was part of a lovely group of bloggers including Hayley from The Domestic Rebel, Mique from Thirty Handmade Days, Jen from Yummy Healthy Easy, Valentina from Cooking on the Weekends, Diane from Created by Diane and Chung-Ah Rhee from Damn Delicious. Our group enjoyed a whirlwind tour of the Thrifty Ice Cream plant, several amazing meals featuring an array of California dairy products, and a tour of Bootsma Dairy in Lakeview, CA.
The tour kicked off with a trip to the Thrifty Ice Cream plant. As a California girl, I’ve enjoyed Thrifty Ice Cream as long as I can remember! It was so fun to see exactly how this delicious ice cream is made! And as the conscientious food bloggers we are… Hayley and I just had to do a little “quality control” and taste the cookies that go into Thrifty’s cookies and cream ice cream! =) We approve!
After the factory tour, we had an ice cream sampling… this is about the point when I have to smile ask myself, how did I get so lucky to have this be my job?! =)
Needless to say, every flavor we tried was delicious… but Chocolate Malted Crunch remains my all time favorite!
We enjoyed two especially amazing meals while on our trip… an incredible dinner at Eatery in Pasadena, and then a gorgeous lunch at The Salted Pig in Riverside (pictured above). Both meals were artfully prepared and included some of the most delicious milk and cheese dishes imaginable!
The final stop on our California Milk tour was at Bootsma Dairy in Lakeview. I was struck by both the geographical beauty, and the peaceful feel of this family-owned business. The Bootsma Dairy has nearly 2,000 cow and yet is run just the way any smaller dairy would be. Each and every cow is given individual care at some point in the day. Nearly around the clock care is invested to make sure these cows are happy and healthy.
My friend Hayley did her best to figure out how this little calf might fit in her luggage! =)
As a final send-off we enjoyed a few more dairy treats, including this gorgeous cheese board. I’m super inspired to recreate this for one of my next parties!
Thanks to the wonderful people at California Milk for including me on this tour and giving me so many more reasons to love California dairy products!
What is your favorite dairy product? Is it milk? Cheese? Yogurt? Ice Cream? I love them all… but ice cream certainly tops the list for me!
This post is sponsored by the California Milk Advisory Board. All images, text and opinions are my own. I am very selective about the brands and products I share on my site and only work with companies I love.